A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

P.O. Box 872383 Wasilla, Alaska 99687


All photos and text © Bill Hess, unless otherwise noted 
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Wasilla is the place where I have lived for the past 29 years - sort of. The house in which my wife and I raised our family sits here, but I have made my rather odd career as a different sort of photojournalist by continually wandering off to other places to photograph people and gather information, which I have then put together in various publications that have served the Alaska Native Eskimo, Indian and Aleut communities.

Although I did not have a great of free time to devote to this rather strange community, named after a Tanaina Athabascan Indian chief who knew Wasilla in the way that I so impossibly long to, I have still documented it regularly over the past quarter-century plus. In the early days, my Wasilla photographs focused mostly upon my children and the events they participated in - baseball, football, figure skating, hockey, frog catching, fire cracker detonation, Fourth of July parade - that sort of thing. 

In 2002, I purchased my first digital camera and then, whenever I was home, I began to photograph Wasilla upon a daily basis, but not in a conventional way. These were grab shots - whatever caught my eye as I took my many long walks or drove through the town, shooting through the car window at people and scenes that appeared and disappeared before I could even focus and compose in the traditional photographic way.

Thus, the Wasilla portion of this blog will be devoted both to the images that I take as I wander about and those that I have taken in the past. Despite the odd, random, nature of the images, I believe they communicate something powerful about this town that I have never seen expressed anywhere else. 

Wasilla is a sprawling community that has been slapped down hodge-podge upon what was so recently wilderness of the most exquisite beauty. In its design, it is deliberately anti-zoned, anti-planned. In the building of Wasilla, the desire to make a buck has trumped aesthetics and all other considerations. This town, built in the midst of exquisite beauty, has largely become an unsightly, unattractive, mess of urban sprawl. Largely because of this, it often seems to me that Wasilla is a community with no sense of community, a town devoid of town soul.

Yet - Wasilla is my home and if I am lucky it will be until I grow old and die. Despite its horrific failings, it is still made of the stuff of any small city: people; moms and dads, grammas and grampas, teens, children, churches, bars, professionals, laborers, soldiers, missionaries, artists, athletes, geniuses, do-gooders, hoodlums, the wealthy, the homeless, the rational and logical, the slightly insane and the wholly insane - and, yes, as is now obvious to the whole world, politicians, too.

So perhaps, if one were to search hard enough, it might just be possible to find a sense of community here, and a town soul. So, using my skills as a photojournalist and a writer, I hope to do just that. If this place has a sense of community, I will find it. If there is a town soul to Wasilla, I will document it. I won't compete with the newspapers. Hell no! But as time and income allow, it will be fun to wander into the places where the folks described above gather, and then put what I find on this blog.


by 300...

Anywhere within a 300 mile radius of Wasilla. This encompasses perhaps the most wild, dramatic, gorgeous, beautiful section of land and sea to be found in any comparable space anywhere on Earth. I can never explore it all, but I will do the best that I can, and will here share what I find and experience with you.  

and then some...

Anywhere else in the world that I happen to get to, such as Point Lay, Alaska; Missoula, Montana; Serenki, Chukotka, Russia; or Bangalore, India. Perhaps even Lagos, Nigeria. I have both a desire and scheme to get me there. It is a long shot. We shall see if I succeed.

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Self-portrait, New York Subway - October, 2008

Bill Hess is a professional, full-time freelance photographer and author based in Wasilla, Alaska. For nearly 30 years, he has made his career by putting together publications that serve the Alaska Native Eskimo, Indian, and Aleut communities. Most prominent among these is Uiñiq Magazine, a photojounalistic publication that Hess created with funding from the North Slope Borough in 1985 and published regularly through 1996. 

From time to time, he still does a special issue.

Hess also produced Alaska's Village Voices for the RurAL Alaska Community Action Program from 1997 through 2006 and through it covered the major issues that faced Alaska Native communities and he did so by traveling to and spending time in Native villages in every region of the state.

He did most of his travels for these and other publications in his Citabria 7GBC tandem, two-seater, fabric-clad, stick controlled, 150 hp Lycoming powered airplane, before he crashed it.

He began his career in Alaska working as a reporter/photographer and then editor of the Tundra Times, a weekly tabloid that served all of Native Alaska.

Before that, he served for three years as the Editor, reporter, photographer, delivery boy and what have you for the Fort Apache Scout, the official paper of Arizona's White Mountain Apache Tribe.

He is the author and photographer of the book, Gift of the Whale: The Iñupiat Bowhead Hunt - A Sacred Tradition (Sasquatch) and the photographer of the recent Celebration: Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Dancing on the Land (University of Washington Press). He has also done a series of children's books for the North Slope Borough School District, as well as other books on commission.

His work has appeared in a host of national and international publications, ranging from National Geographic to Geo.

In 1999, Hess earned the First Runner-up grant from the W. Eugene Smith Fund for Humanistic Photography.

Now, Hess is looking for the ways and means to transfer his talents and work into online photojournalism and artistic expression. Although as of yet he has little idea how to go about it and lacks the means to devote more than a limited fraction of his time to the effort, this blog is his first foray into learning how to make it happen.
























Photos by Bill Hess

Bill Hess Photography